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'Skype clone' surfaces in China

Stealth firm plays reversi with VoIP code

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Chinese software developers have reportedly reverse engineered Skype's internet telephony software to develop a clone. The unnamed company has developed a software client using the same protocol and encryption technology used by Skype. This software, which is still in the early stages of development, was used to call Charlie Paglee, co-founder of Voice over IP startup Vozin Communications.

Although the software lacks features that indicate whether someone is online or instant messaging technology, Paglee reports that the mystery firm involved plans to add these features (along with stability improvements) and release a stable version of the software by August. The development paves the way for the possible creation of third party Skype clients.

In April, VoIP firm Skype admitted that its Chinese partner (Tom Online) filters instant messages sent using its software to comply with local censorship laws. The Chinese authorities might take a dim view of a locally produced client that omits these features, regardless of the ethical arguments over the production of a "knock-off" clone. On the other hand, as Paglee notes, Chinese telcos might welcome the possibility of licensing locally produced VoIP technology that allows them to claw back revenue lost on international calls to Skype's officially sanctioned version of its software.

In a statement, Skype played down the possibility that the development of third party Skype clients might affect its business. "Skype is aware of the claim made by a small group of Chinese engineers that they have reverse engineered Skype software. We have no evidence to suggest that this is true. Even if it was possible to do this, the software code would lack the feature set and reliability of Skype which is enjoyed by over 100 million users today. Moreover, no amount of reverse engineering would threaten Skype’s cryptographic security or integrity," it said. ®

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